"Despite the diversity of tools to support creative thinking, all such tools are based on three simple principles: attention, escape, and movement. The tools of creative thinking are simply various combinations of practical ways to implement this heuristic -- to focus attention, escape the current reality, and continue mental movement."

An Example of the Three Principles Behind the Tools of Creative Thinking

Improving Information Flow in a Medical Clinic

A common problem in large medical clinics like those in Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) involves the flow of information from specialty physicians back to the patient's primary care physician. The patient first sees his or her primary care physician when they have a medical problem. The primary care physician may decide to refer the patient to a specialist such as a surgeon or cardiologist (heart doctor). Information about what the specialist found, or didn't find, is supposed to come back to the primary care physician in the form of a report that gets filed in the patient's medical record. But, the next time the patient comes in for a visit, the primary care physician opens the medical records, sees her note that she referred the patient, but no record of what was found. Not knowing what happened in the consultation can lead to all sorts of problems: misdiagnosis, unnecessary repetition of tests, etc.

A DirectedCreativity Approach

  • Creative thinking about this problem could begin by paying attention to the fact that we usually think that it is the responsibility of the specialist's office to type up consult notes and send these to the primary care physician.
  • We could escape this paradigm by asking, "What if they passed a law saying that it was illegal for specialist's offices to do word processing?"
  • If we can turn off the mental processes of judgment that causes us to reject this question out of hand, then we can proceed on to creative movement in our thinking.

lightbulbFor example, if they passed such a law, we could provide a voice-mailbox in the primary care physician's office where specialists could dictate consult notes immediately following the encounter with the patient. This is easy for the specialist because all she has to do is pick up the phone and speak for a minute or so while all of the information is still fresh in her mind. The primary care physician's office staff could then type up the consult notes, keep a copy for its records, and send a copy to the specialist. In this way, the primary care physician would have immediate access to the results of the specialist consult. As a side benefit, the primary care physician's office staff could even track to make sure that the patient kept the appointment with the specialist. A clear improvement with important implications for quality of care and cost reduction.


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